The Humors of COVID: How Gen Z has Learned to Cope With The Pandemic

Amanda McCard

When the phone rang for the first time, we couldn’t have known what was about to happen. We were sitting in French class, talking to our quarantined teacher through a Zoom, when the call came. Our substitute teacher made the long trudge across the classroom to the phone. After a quick conversation, he told the student two seats behind me to gather his things and head to the band room.

The next call came a minute or two later. Another walk across the classroom, another quick conversation, and then the girl who sits across the room was asked to join the first student in the band room.

At this point we started to catch on, and a few students’ tentative whispers quickly grew into a collective roar: there had been another COVID case at Lewis Mills and another bunch of students would be expected to quarantine.

The next five times the phone cried out for attention, our classroom’s cry was louder. Hiding their faces, the students yelled and laughed in either amused anxiety or panicked pleasure; it was hard to tell. Each time a name was called, my classmates turned to the newest victim of the contact tracing procedure, demonstrating their sincerest empathy by laughing even harder. In the lulls between phone calls, all that could be heard was phones ringing and students yelling in each classroom of the hall.

As I witnessed this bizarre spectacle, I noted that only my own generation would have such a unique, humorous reaction to this seemingly stressful event. I couldn’t fathom why everyone, myself included, was just so happy.

Then I realized: it’s because people my age have better equipped themselves to handle a stressor like a global pandemic than others. In fact, Generation Z has handled the coronavirus crisis more effectively than any other age group.

In March, when the virus first made its widespread mark in America, my peers around the world were affected greatly. We were sent home from school, forced to take our AP tests online, barred from visiting college campuses, and prohibited from seeing our friends. The class of 2020 missed their proms and graduation ceremonies, and the class of 2021 has already been braving a senior year of cancelled events, masks, and social distancing.

Even as they missed out on major milestones, Generation Z has proved its resilience. A quick search on TikTok or Instagram reveals a timeline of the events of the pandemic, matched with endless mockery and silliness from the teenagers who essentially run these platforms. From videos making fun of online learning, to ridicule of the “Karens” who won’t wear masks in stores, to self-deprecating bits about the perils of isolation, Gen Z has put a comedic spin on everything.

Of course, other generations also use humor to cope with difficult events. What’s different with Generation Z, though, is that its humor unites people. While adults may post mocking messages on Facebook that likely alienate members of an entire political party, it seems that all the members of Gen Z, or at least the approximately ninety percent of them on social media, can come together to laugh at the ridiculousness of anything.

It is possible that the members of this generation have an easier time turning to humor because they are less at risk of serious sickness. According to a study conducted by Davies et al, only 21% of people between ten- and nineteen-years old show symptoms of the virus when they get it, compared to 69% of people over 70. Still, there is no doubt that the effects of the pandemic extend far beyond health concerns, spilling into social development and emotional wellbeing, which are particularly important for adolescents. The fact that teenagers can cope with the changes they’re facing without dissolving into a constant state of bickering, anger, or mistrust of others is impressive, especially considering how their supposed role-models are handling the same crisis.

Other than their humor, Generation Z is handling this pandemic so well because its members are simply so transparent. There are very few teenagers who, in the dog days of self-isolation, put on a show, pretending to be busy making side money and banana bread or happy that they get to spend more time with their families. While I saw several blog and Facebook posts written by adults explaining why we’re lucky to be quarantined or how to be most productive while staying at home, my generation saw and described the situation for how it was: horrible. And even though they complain freely, both online and in-person when they get the chance, their realistic negativity doesn’t bring others down but instead creates an environment of honesty and openness.

There’s no doubt that the coronavirus has brought stress, fear, and plenty of change to everyone’s lives, and there’s definitely no one way to cope with it. But for as long as the pandemic rages on, members of Gen Z will delight in their shared mockery and misery, forging connections in the darkest of times, as is the quintessential human story.